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Gold vs Titanium - Which is "Safer"?

“But what’s the safest one? I mean which one is better?” This is a question I hear time and time again at the studio. Clients are looking over our selection of solid implant grade titanium and solid 14k gold. They have designs they like, but their main concern is there safety- what is going to heal the best and be the healthiest. They are hemming and hawing between both- and age old adages run through their mind about Gold being the “safest”, and the “only thing they can wear.” But titanium is implant grade- isn’t that safe too? So, what is the difference? Is one material better or safer than the other? Lets see!

Let’s look at Gold to start. Many folks are aware that gold is ranked in a Karat system. But most folks don’t understand what that means! Karats are a system of denoting the purity of gold. Each Karat is 1/24, meaning 24k is pure gold, 18k is 18 parts gold to 6 parts of a filler alloy, 10k is 10 parts gold to filler. Most peoples immediate response is “well awesome! Let’s get 24k gold because that’s the best!” Well, not so fast. The reason why we started mixing gold with other alloys is that pure gold very, very soft. You can scratch it with your fingernail. That doesn’t make for good material for any jewelry, let alone jewelry you plan on wearing in your body. Gold needs to have filler metals to make it strong enough to be formed into jewelry and hold up to regular wear and use. So what gold is best for piercings? We have found both 14k and 18k to be ideal for piercing. Lower than 14k and there is too much filler, and the gold becomes hard to work into the intricate designs folks have come to love. Higher than 18k and the gold is often too soft, its easily damaged by regular cleaning and wear and tear on a body piercing. But, just because something is 14 or 18k doesn’t make it suitable for piercing- yet. As we discusses, those are mixtures. So what else is being mixed with gold to make these alloys? Well, unfortunately, it is often nickel. A commonplace metal that many, many people are sensitive to. So when you get gold body jewelry, it’s important to ensure that the alloy is produced without nickel. Company's can verify this by having alloy testing done, that shows the exact content of their gold. Any reputable company has this for clients to access. It’s a red flag if a company refuses, or claims their alloy is an “industry” secret. Even the APP requires all gold to be nickel free.

“2. Solid 14 karat or higher yellow, white, or rose gold that is nickel and cadmium free.

Gold jewelry used for initial piercing may not be:

i. Plated, unless using materials approved by this standard over solid 14 karat or higher yellow, white, or rose gold that is 14k or higher, or white rhodium.

ii. Gold-filled.

iii. Gold overlay/vermeil.”

Now, if you simply prefer the look of higher karat gold colors, you can have those plated over a solid 14k gold base, but be aware that any plating runs the risk of wearing down over time, and these pieces should be treated gently and with extra care.

Next up, titanium! Titanium is an awesome metal with many uses, from building materials, electronics, jewelry, and medical purposes. For piercing, we want titanium similar to that used in medical devices like bone-screws, pacemakers, and hip replacements. This titanium is what is considered “biocompatible” meaning our body accepts it as part of us. This is why we can use it for implant work and our body doesn’t just reject the implant and push it out, which happens with metals that aren’t biocompatiable. And its also terrifying (for real- look up what used to happen with old style steel and copper IUD’s for women- not a good time.) Titanium, like gold, comes in many different forms and alloys. I know, that means there’s more to it than just “Titanium” Not all titanium is created equal. The titanium we want for piercings is Implant Grade Titanium. This comes in many forms, but arguably the most common in piercing is ASTM F136.

c. Unalloyed titanium that is ASTM F67 or ISO 5832-2 compliant

d. Alloyed Titanium (Ti6Al4V ELI) that is ASTM F136 compliant or ISO 5832-3 compliant

e. Alloyed Titanium (Ti6Al7Nb ELI) that is ASTM F1295 compliant or ISO 5832-11 compliant

Now, something being listed as titanium isn’t enough. It should have verifiable mill certificates to prove it is in fact implant grade. There have been issues in the past with some companies using mill certs that were falsified, or from countries where they couldn’t be verified. Many companies blatantly lie about their materials (learn more about this here) So it’s very important to purchase titanium from brands you trust. That said, proper implant grade titanium has a perfect, mirror surface finish, high biocompatiably, and still comes in a limited selection of fun and fancy designs and colors.

So, is one better than the other, or “safer”? Arguably, titanium is more biocompatible than gold. But, we aren’t implanting things inside your heart- its a body piercing. And most piercers are going to be using titanium posts anyway for the piece that actually passes through the piercing, so just the front or decorative end will be gold in many cases. Gold pieces can come in a larger variety of designs, and feature an array of beautiful genuine gemstones. Gold is often more expensive than titanium, so cost can be a factor. Gold is often seen as the ‘more desirable’ or ‘upgrade’ jewelry by many piercers and clients. While I understand this mentality, personally I don’t think gold is the “upgrade” from titanium. Both gold and titanium are equally awesome materials, both are safe, and both are cool. And, both are an upgrade from mystery metal “surgical” steel and acrylic for sure. In my professional opinion, I don’t think either is “better” than the other. They each have their own pros and cons, but both are safe, beautiful, awesome choices for your new or healed piercing!

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